I have a student whose name means “sweet” in Spanish (well, there goes anonymity out the window, but it’s appropriate) which is too perfect because this girl is the quietest, shy but smiley, sweet girl. She has some serious academic challenges though, not so much because she doesn’t understand but because she thinks she doesn’t understand. At the beginning of the summer she would sit, silently, not asking for help, paralyzed by doubt. We’ve been working on asking for help and being proactive, and slowly but surely she’s been making progress. She still tends to freeze or instinctively state that she can’t do it; she spent the 3 days previous as we were trying to begin subtraction telling me, “I don’t know minus.” Over and over, it was like a chorus every time I asked her to do a problem. She ended up in the high-intervention group with my two lowest students (one of whom can’t read numbers reliably) not because she deserved to be there but because she was sure she didn’t know minus. No subtraction was actually done. But two days ago she told me in the morning that her mom asked for homework so she can practice at home.
I only know her mom in passing, because this student was one of our cling-to-mom-crying-for-a-week students, and though she’s slowly moved past that phase her mom occasionally had to sit in our class for 15 minutes in the morning to make the transition; since this student is in my morning group, usually her mom and I work together and exchange knowing smiles, but that’s about it.
My sweet little student asked for homework probably 3 times in the morning hour, so I could tell it was important to her. So during my afternoon free time, I wrote out a long note to her mom explaining what we’ve been doing in class and which skills are still hard for her daughter (in Spanish, because Mom speaks no English…by the way, this student has the most adorable accent when she speaks both loudly and more than one word, which is uncommon). I translated and wrote out longhand all the steps we’ve used to teach addition and subtraction, so Mom can teach her the same way at home, and wrote out by hand about 100 problems of addition, subtraction, and ordering numbers. I was expecting the student to work on these for the rest of the summer.
Yesterday, in comes my student for math class. And what does she hand me? The packet I made her (which she calls her “test,” too cute), entirely done.
“I did it all by myself!” she told me. “I know minus!”
This little girl told every teacher she saw that afternoon that she knows minus (most of whom had no idea what she was talking about!). And I nearly cried.
We talk a lot in TFA about investing parents and what a big resource parents can be, but this was probably the highlight of my summer. This little girl COULD NOT subtract. She sat there with a blank page, too nervous to try. She kind of understood but not enough to have confidence, and with so many kids to be looking at individually, I didn’t have time to teach her one-on-one until she was confident. But her mom did. And so she asked for supplies, and with a hour and half of my time making resources she gave her daughter what I couldn’t in the classroom. That little girl came into my class beaming from ear to ear, confident and proud of herself for probably the first time all summer.
By the way, on my subtraction assessment that afternoon? 100%. Thanks to Mom, she totally knows minus.